Earthships: Radically Sustainable Design When becoming a designer it is easy to become overly consumed with the aesthetics of a design while other aspects fall by the wayside. As this aesthetic driven design develops the price tag often sores while functionally and sustainability are neglected. These problems drove Architect Michael Reynolds to think differently. They drove him to find a better way to create, design, build, and as a result, live. The issues with current design and build practices run much deeper than summarized above. Instead of looking at this as issues needed to be solved, Mike wiped the board clean and sought to find new ways to prove people with a higher quality of living while having little to no negative impact to our earths natural systems.
Mike’s answer to this question? Earthships. Earthships are entirely “off the grid” homes that are naturally climate controlled, derive all electricity and water from natural systems, treat all sewage, and grow food for the residents. This may seem impossibly idealistic, however, many earthships have already been successfully constructed and are working as conceptualized. These structures are very low cost compared to traditional construction and a large proportion of the building materials are objects that are 100% re-used materials. This allows home owners to become independent and self-sufficient while cutting ties to electrical, water, fossil fuel, and sewage companies who’s unsustainable business practices are destroying this planet. This self-sufficiency allows for a higher quality of life by cutting financial costs, having access to fresh chemical free produce, proving peace of mind in case of disasters, and knowing that your lifestyle is not causing heavy strain on the earths fragile systems.
All this is possible due to great design backed by strong environmentally conscience principles. Earthships are a form of passive-solar design meaning they reject solar heat gain in the summer and utilize it in the winter. Building materials with high thermal mass (the ability to hold heat) are also used to store heat to be used after the sun sets. They combine this design technique with geothermal heat management techniques. Varying amongst regions, 5 feet below the earths surface a temperature of around 60 degrees is sustained constantly. By recessing the entire structure slightly into the ground and mounding up earth around one side of the structure, the earthship also keeps this 60 degree constant. 60 degrees is not in the human comfort zone, however, the solar heat gain is used to bring this temperature to a comfortable level.
Cost of construction is so low mostly because building materials and methods are far from standard. Many of the building materials are reused objects in their true form. As an example car tired are rammed with earth are laid like bricks to make many of the walls, aluminum cans are use to reinforce concrete, and glass bottles are placed in concrete to reinforce it while letting light into the space. This rethinking of building materials is an innovate way to sustainably build homes that can be afforded by most. These new methods can also but taught to under-developed nations as a way for their people to build a home for their own.
This is a very sort summary of how an earthship works but to truly understand and appreciate Mike’s creation you must visit earthship.com and see for yourself how earthships can change the way we operate in the most positive of ways. Mike works to spread his knowledge and offers internships to anyone wanting to work hands-on building an Earthship. He also organizes charitable projects, including Haiti disaster relief, where he teaches these easy to learn construction techniques to communities in need of a cost-efficient ways to construct homes. This is not only architecture but a new way of life. This is a way to become independent, self-sufficient, happier, healthier, and preserve our precious natural systems.